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Costa Mesa Chamber holds ‘cannabis kickoff’ to spur membership among dispensary owners seeking legitimacy

Jim Fitzpatrick, Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce's Cannabis Task Force Chair, in a virtual "Cannabis Kickoff" Wednesday.
Jim Fitzpatrick, Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce’s Cannabis Task Force Chair, describes in a virtual meeting Wednesday the benefits of membership for dispensary owners looking to do business in the city.
(Screenshot by Sara Cardine)

Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday held a “Cannabis Kickoff” to welcome those in the industry to a city where marijuana dispensaries may now conduct business legally and potentially bolster membership in a new business sector.

“As you consider setting up your business in the beautiful city of Costa Mesa, please consider joining us,” chamber president and chief executive Carla Valenzuela said in the virtual meeting. “We’re so looking forward to the possibility of our working together.”

The meeting followed on the heels of a Tuesday night city council meeting, during which lawmakers gave final approval of ordinances regulating retail cannabis sales and delivery. With a legal framework in place, business owners may apply for licenses and permits after a 30-day period.

Chamber leaders were keen to point out the many advantages of membership, including letters of recommendation that may aid cannabis operators in the city’s application process.

Tom Johnson, president emeritus for the chamber and a self-described “cannabis champion,” suggested networking events and sponsorship opportunities could help build valuable inroads for proprietors interested in establishing themselves as legal business owners.

“We want to embrace the cannabis community fully,” Johnson said. “We want to be your connection to introduce you to the people you need to know to make your business more successful in this town.”

Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens, along with city council members Manuel Chavez and Loren Gameros — members of a council-appointed ad hoc committee that’s worked with industry leaders on local matters related to cannabis commerce — shared their cellphone numbers and email addresses, encouraging anyone with questions to reach out directly.

Stephens said he anticipated retail tax revenue could soon become the city’s third highest source of income, after property and sales tax, as legal dispensaries move into commercial zones, where businesses have struggled to keep customers more inclined to do their buying online.

“There is a lot riding on this,” he said. “I have very high expectations and very high hopes for the industry, and I’m extremely excited that the chamber of commerce is embracing this industry. Join the chamber of commerce, go to the ribbon cuttings, support one another.”

Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Costa Mesa planning commissioner and chair of the chamber’s cannabis task force, on Friday described a symbiotic relationship between chamber leaders looking to modernize the organization and grow its ranks and a new business sector seeking legitimacy and support.

“The chamber sees this as a way to invigorate membership, bring in membership dollars and sponsorships,” he said. “I really think this is a model for how to do this right, rather than putting [cannabis business] in the shadows, where it’s always been.”

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